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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Schooled in Tech: High school students learn tools of the trade

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It’s safe to say that today’s teens have a seemingly innate connection with technology. After all, Generation Z, consisting of individuals born mid-1990s to mid-2000s, is the first generation that had access to the Internet at an exceptionally young age. For a group of scholars at Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School, that interest in tech goes beyond texting, video games and Snapchat. Even before earning a high school diploma, these students are acquiring the skills and connections needed to make moves in the booming field of technology. 

Every Friday afternoon, a small group of Tindley students hop on a school bus and make their way downtown to The Speak Easy, a large coworking space in a former opera house. Inside the vibrant workspace they find tech apprenticeship program Kenzie Academy, an organization working to pioneer new models for technology education. In addition to providing 6-month to 2-year apprenticeship programs for adults, Kenzie Academy has partnered with Tindley Accelerated Schools to teach high schoolers the tools of the trade at no cost to the students. 

After grabbing a bite to eat and socializing with instructors, the students start coding, which many consider as complex as learning a new language. Jill Orme, chief development officer/director of external communications with Tindley Accelerated Schools, says the program expands on what the students are already learning in the classroom.

“We currently have an intro to computer science mandatory class for 9th graders, and an advanced computer science elective for 11th and 12th graders. While thinking through what we could do to offer even more opportunities, we felt like this would be a great opportunity for our more advanced students. These kids, on Friday, have half days at our school, so as soon as class is dismissed we come here,” said Orme. 

Real estate tracking firm CBRE Group saw local tech jobs grow 27.9 percent between 2013 and 2015, one-third of Indy’s new office jobs. As Indianapolis’ reputation as a tech hub flourishes, Orme’s goal is to make sure students are ready to meet the demand by offering opportunities outside of the classroom. 

The students range from sophomores to seniors, and all have a recognizable passion for the field. Jerran Leakes, a 17-year-old senior, is among the apprentices. Leakes says he felt drawn to technology at a young age.

Jerran Leakes (second from left) and Jonathan Taylor (third from left) learn coding techniques at Kenzie Academy. (Photo/Keshia McEntire) 

“When I was a kid, technology was a new, wonderful experience. I saw that as we grew up, technology (was) going to become more relevant. I watched movies such as Star Wars and Back to the Future, and I saw technology as a unique concept that I can interact with and create something amazing. As a kid, I always wanted to help people and with technology, I can see (myself) helping billions of people,” said Leakes.

After college, Leakes plans to move to California and start a business that focuses on human living conditions and technological advancement. He says his time at Kenzie Academy has allowed him to gain new skills while making meaningful connections. 

“The Kenzie Academy has taught us unique coding techniques such as how to make a proper footer on a webpage. Some projects that we have worked on is animation, creating schematics for a webpage, and a CSS style page, which is how you style your webpage,” said Leakes. “My favorite part about this program is learning about how much dedication programmers have for their jobs, meeting one of the best teachers a student can have and having so much fun that you forget to about all the stress that comes with being a senior in high school.”

The high school scholars share the room with Kenzie Academy’s students and instructors, many of whom are diverse in race and gender. Kara Kavensky, communications director with Kenzie Academy, hopes the program will help erase the stereotype that tech jobs are only for white men. 

“Diversity in the tech field is huge, and for students to see themselves in a profession, they need to see someone who looks like them. I haven’t seen a better way for get kids to create a life they never dreamed about than to show them what’s possible when they are given room to create. To watch light bulbs turn on, and for them to see that there are no barriers to entry here. It’s exciting to show kids what is possible,” said Kavensky.

Orme says the program has inspired students to think about life after high school.

“The kids and extremely pumped every Friday to come here, they are soaking it all up,” said Orme. “This is there interest and passion, it’s what gets them going, so being able to dive into coding and get a glimpse of what that might look like career wise gives them an opportunity to think about ‘where do I want to go (after high school), and what type of career path might I follow’ is great. It gets them excited about what’s next.” 

Jaraugh Lewis and Lyza Norton are hard at work at Kenzie Academy. (Photo/Keshia McEntire)

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